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Rapper’s Delight — the new group featuring original Sugar Hill Gang oldschool professors Wonder Mike and Master Gee — performs its first full concert at Asbury Park’s Paramount Theatre on Saturday night as part of the tenth annual Garden State Film Festival; an event (with special guest rappers) tied in to a screening of the documentary I WANT MY NAME BACK.
We’ve hinted at it before, but in between all the welcome hoopla to the effect that Asbury Park is Where Music Lives, we’d make the case that the city that once served as home base for legendary theatre mogul Walter Reade; the historic home of movie palaces like the late lamented Mayfair, the still-standing Paramount and the back-soon Savoy is furthermore a place Where Movies Live.
Not bad for a town that doesn’t have a multiplex within city limits — although the coming months promise the appearance of not one but two multi-screen arthouses (including the newly expanded downtown landmark The ShowRoom). Still, even as old-neighborhood nickelodeons like The Baronet have bitten the briny dust in recent years, the town that gave us Bud Abbott, Danny DeVito and, uh, Rick Salomon has found a way — whether it’s a free beach movie on an inflatable screen, or a cinematic singalong session at the Supper Club. A music/film series at a downtown coffeehouse, or a backdrop of vintage stags at the Lanes. Any of the screenings that accompany major events like ZombieFest and All Tomorrow’s Parties, or the intimate movie-club house parties that happen right here at the historic Stephen Crane House.
Pre-dating ALL of the above is an event that’s existed on the leading edge of the city’s slow reclamation of the region’s cultural spotlight — the Garden State Film Festival, the 10th annual edition of which takes place in and around Asbury town this weekend, March 23-25. A filmfreak fiesta of short subjects and features; comedies, dramas, documentaries and otherwise unclassifiable endeavor; the GSFF employs the town as its canvas, offering dozens of events at venues that range from iconic landmarks like the Paramount and the Berkeley Hotel, to some new fave restaurants and even the surprisingly comfy screening space of the City Council chambers. It’s all the brainchild of founder Diane Raver, herself the first female president of a commercial production company and an industry veteran whose many contacts include TV star daughter Kim Raver (Grey’s Anatomy, 24). As legend has it, it was a supermarket encounter between Diane and the late actor Robert Pastorelli, (best recalled as Eldin the painter on Murphy Brown) that led to the establishment of the GSFF in 2003 — and the legacy of Pastorelli, who died of an apparent heroin overdose in 2004, lives on in the festival’s annual Robert Pastorelli Rising Star Award, presented to NJ residents who “have made inroads to the industry through hard work and determination.”
There’s also a Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented to a very special guest — and this year’s recipient is a performer, activist and Screen Actors Guild president who’s lived a lifetime and then some on the big and small screen — Ed Asner, the TV powerhouse (Mary Tyler Moore, Lou Grant, Roots and tons of memorable movies) whose natural versatility and big-hearted-tough-guy persona continue to gain him new fans through recent projects like Up, Elf and Too Big to Fail. Also coming to town for the festival will be a couple of genuine founding fathers of OldSchoolHipHop — Wonder Mike and Master Gee, the MCs who summoned it all into being with Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and whose rise, fall and rise again will be celebrated on screen and in live concert. There’s even a bit of tangential involvement by the UpperWETside (for which we are happy to accept a VIP badge and conduct an audence Q&A with an official questionnaire) — and while we urge you to design your own GSFF experience by consulting the festival website and schedule, we’d be remiss if we didn’t offer up our own select picks from the coming days and nights, all of which unspool on the next reel…
Legendary actor, former SAG president (and tireless advocate for things progressive) Ed Asner is honored with this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award by the GSFF — and he’ll be appearing both on screen (in HOPELESSLY IN JUNE) and in person (in a live screenplay reading) this weekend around Asbury Park.
Thursday: MICHAEL screening plus Robert Pastorelli tribute. Thursday’s kickoff to the landmark event features a tribute (inside the historic Paramount on the AP boards) to the late NJ-born character actor who played a significant role in the establishment of the GSFF. The New Brunswick native, in whose honor a Rising Star award is given out each year by the festival (screen actor Adam Mucci will accept the award on March 25) will be remembered by “friends, family, co-stars, current and prior Rising Star Award recipients with montage of memorable moments from film and television.” Immediately thereafter will be a free screening of Michael, the 1996 fantasy (with John Travolta as an earthbound archangel) featuring Pastorelli in a supporting role alongside William Hurt and Andie MacDowell. A post-screening reception follows at AQUA Oceanfront Restaurant & Bar at the north end of the Convention Hall complex. Paramount Theatre, Ocean and Fifth Aves., Asbury Park • March 22, 7-9pm
Friday: Opening Night cocktail party. The annual gala affair on the Asbury boards boasts 90 minutes of hors d’ouevres, cash bar, live music and real live CELEBRITIES — and it’s followed at 8:30 by a screening (inside the Paramount) of Cloned, Shuffle and Death Taxes & Apple Juice. Grand Arcade at Convention Hall, Ocean and Fifth Aves., Asbury Park • March 23, 7-10pm/ Tickets $25
Saturday: SEVEN YEARS UNDERGROUND: A 60s TALE. Producer-director Jason M. Solomon looks at the legendary Greenwich Village nightspot Café au GoGo — a place where, in the 1960s, the game changers of popular music (including Van Morrison, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, The Mothers of Invention) and their comic counterparts (Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin) made NYC friends, got arrested and “influenced a generation of hip, New York teenagers who, in turn, inspired a grass roots movement that helped transform the socio-political landscape and consciousness of the entire nation.” The 90 minute doc feature screens with shore subjects at Chico’s, Asbury’s own subterranean groovy grotto of culture. Chico’s House of Jazz, 631 Lake Ave., Asbury Park • March 24, 3-5pm
Saturday: AT THE JERSEY SHORE. The ever popular Porta restaurant (a block west of the Stone Pony) is the venue for the “Asbury Park premiere” of the feature (formerly Love Chaos) by Thomas Bentey; an “ironic tale” of a young writer who travels to Seaside Heights to pose as a club guy and uncover the “real” Jersey Shore — “only to find true love instead.” Porta, 911 Kingsley St., Asbury Park • March 24, 5:30-7:30pm
Saturday: ASBURY PARK MUSICAL MEMORIES. Our own Susan Pellegrini teamed with the city’s Board of Ed to produce this salute and remembrance of the R&B music scene that thrived on the city’s West Side during the 1950s (and which spawned such nationwide hitmakers as Lenny Welch). A companion piece to last year’s tribute concert at the Paramount — and a capper to the Asbury Park: Where Music Lives promotion — the 44 minute doc finds a friendly harbor at Chico’s House of Jazz, 631 Lake Ave., Asbury Park • March 24, 6-8pm
Saturday: A DANGEROUS PLACE. Set in the shadowy netherworld of the New Jersey pharmaceuticals industry — the real cabal that runs our lives, don’t'cha know — Gregory J. Corrado‘s feature is a homegrown thriller about a pharma exec (Kristen Dalton) “who begins to suspect that her fellow employees are poisoning people in the public because their company makes the antidote.” Paramount Theatre, Ocean and Fifth Aves., Asbury Park • March 24, 6-8pm
Saturday: KJB: THE BOOK THAT CHANGED THE WORLD. The KJB standing for The King James Bible, the 1611 authorized edition of which became the standard that can be said without hyperbole to have Changed the World. John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings, Raiders) narrates a mix of historic documentary and dramatic recreations that involves “crooked clerics and masterly scholars, the court of King James and the Gunpowder Plot.” It all happens inside the downtown AP mainstay Synaxis at the Shore, 660 Cookman Ave., Asbury Park • March 24, 6:30-8:30pm
Saturday: I WANT MY NAME BACK. The centerpiece event of this year’s festival is a Paramount screening of Roger Paradiso‘s documentary feature about Old School rappers, The Sugarhill Gang — the guys who brought you party-starting epic hits like “Rapper’s Delight” and “Eighth Wonder” — and the efforts of original members Wonder Mike and Master Gee to reclaim their group name, identity and world-changing musical legacy in the wake of losing it all (shades of the old Doo Wop perforers and their similar sagas of woe). The screening will be followed by a special concert on the Paramount stage, in which Rapper’s Delight, the new group featuring Wonder Mike and Master Gee, will be joined by special guests Vinnie (from Naughty by Nature), Kangol Kid (from UTFO) and Asbury’s own The Obvious. This show requires a special ticket and is NOT included with the weekend pass. Paramount Theatre, Ocean and Fifth Aves., Asbury Park • March 24, 9-11pm/ $15 – $75
Sunday: TWO TON TONY Screenplay Reading. In a quietly exciting event that’s NOT on the official GSFF schedule, actors and producers Georgette and Bill Timoney present their annual performed reading of the festival’s Best Screenplay competition winner — this one a biopic script about champion boxer, NJ native (and On the Waterfront cast member) Two Ton Tony Galento. Reading the title role is Joseph R. Gannascoli (Vito Spatafore on The Sopranos) reads the title role, and he’ll be joined at Watermark over the Asbury boards by a cast of pros that includes busy TV actor Steve Vinovich — AND the one and only Ed Asner!! Watermark, Ocean and First Aves., Asbury Park • March 25, 2-4pm
Sunday: TWIN LIGHTS OF THE NAVESINK HIGHLANDS. One of our favorite historic sites along the Upper Wet Side of NJ is the subject of a half-hour documentary by Fred Frintrup; centerpiece of a program of live action shorts screening inside the City Council chambers of Asbury Park’s municipal building (next to the train station near the intersection of Main Street and Cookman Avenue) — a program that’s scheduled to be introduced and moderated by Yours Truly, the creator of this breathless blog. City Council Chambers, 1 Municipal Plaza (Main St. near Cookman Ave.), Asbury Park • March 25, 2:30-4:30pm
Sunday: POLA NEGRI: LIFE IS A DREAM IN CINEMA. Relatively few people remember the late great silent film actress Pola Negri — but in the first flourishing of the Hollywood firmament, this European-born seductress was a top screen attraction, a serious celebrity (engaged to both Charlie Chaplin AND Rudolph Valentino!) and a star who paved the way for the likes of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. In one of several offerings screening just outside Asbury at the AxPAC in Ocean Township, director Marius Kotowski interviews Hayley Mills, Eli Wallach and others on the legacy of one of the people who helped transform Hollywood into a mecca for the greatest cinematic artists of the European continent. Axelrod Performing Arts Center at JCC of Monmouth, 100 Grant Ave., Deal Park (Ocean Twp.) • March 25, 2:45-4:45pm
Sunday: HOPELESSLY IN JUNE. It’s the East Coast premiere of an indie romantic comedy in which the red/blue binary of politically polarized America is personalized within the context of the African American singles scene. Producer-director Vincent Brantley stars as a financial industry professional (and churchgoing conservative) whose love affair with June (Carolyn Neff) is complicated by her family of Hollywood liberals. Co-starring are Stuart Pankin, Keith David and Ed Asner — recipient of the GSFF Lifetime Achievement Award for 2012 — and it screens Sunday afternoon inside the Kingsley Ballroom of The Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, 1401 Ocean Ave. at Sixth Ave., Asbury Park • March 25, 2:45-5pm
After the festival wraps early Sunday evening, it’s EVERYBODY IN THE CAR for a trip down to The Crystal Point Yacht Club in Point Pleasant, where the black-tie-optional Awards Banquet honors the best films and filmmakers in all categories, as well as special honorees including the aforementioned Ed Asner. Tickets ($125) may be sold out as of this posting, but if there’s a reservation in your name, there’s no missing an event that’s been said to have “seen the birth of many a project and relationship.” Crystal Point, 3900 River Rd., Point Pleasant • March 25, 6:30pm